Monday, May 14, 2012

Once Upon A Time - Reflections on Season One

Well, Once Upon A Time has finished its first season, and with confirmation that the show will be coming back for another round of episodes, I felt like revisiting an earlier post. I liked the show then; I still do now. And I'll give them full credit, they've gotten a lot of things right. But still, there's just a few little things that bother me...

I'm writing this assuming that you've watched the whole of the first season. If you haven't, read no further. Spoilers ahoy.

Okay, then. The good:

Emma Swan is not a stupid skeptic. One of the big plot points of the first season is that Emma doesn't believe in her son's claim that everyone in Storybrooke is, in fact, a cursed fairy tale character. And there have been a few occasions where it's seemed like she would refuse to believe the truth (they are cursed fairy tale characters) even if it was thrown right in her face by, say, somebody's wooden leg.

But in this last episode, when it came down to being rational or saving her kid's life? Emma let rationality go hang. And after what she's seen there's no more question that magic is real. It's a big character development for her, and I sincerely hope it sticks.

We are not living in a time loop. The last shot of the season is of the town's clock tower ticking another step forward. In the first episode, the clock was symbolic: Emma came to town and time started moving again. Progress, it said, was going to be made.

And what progress! The curse is broken, at least in part: everyone remembers who they were, and who is responsible for what happened to them. And Rumplestiltskin has unleashed magic back into the world. Storybrooke, when next we see it, is very definitely not going to look the same.

There's always a concern, when you get into long term dramatic television, that status quo is going to overrule plot development, that characters are going to ignore the lessons they've learned and revert to type once an episode is over. Once Upon A Time, it appears, is not going to be one of those shows.

Rumpelstiltskin still kicks ass. He started off the season as a magnificent bastard, and make no mistake: Rumpelstiltskin, also known as Mr. Gold, remains by far the most intriguing villain on the show. And somehow, he's managed to remain intriguing despite the fact we know, well, pretty much everything about him at this point. We know how he got his powers, and we know about the heartbreaks and mistakes that led him to being who and what he is - but we still don't know what he's got planned! Full props again to Robert Carlyle.

The new guys are fun, and don't derail anything. The cast expanded a bit over the season, with characters like August Booth and the Mad Hatter showing up in the second half. They could have screwed up the show - we certainly never got any hint of them earlier - but they've both been fun additions to the show. The Hatter, in particular, looks set to have a big impact in season two, especially if we see the Red Queen again...

But nothing's perfect, and I think the show still needs to get over a few little problems. In particular:

Regina is a Karma Houdini. You can look up the term here if you need to. Go on, I'll wait.


...Goddamn it, TV Tropes.

The point is, Evil Queen Mayor Contessa Regina has a habit of getting out of any consequences for her actions at least once an episode. By the end of the season it's gotten ridiculous: Regina actually poisoned her own kid and has an entire town ready to lynch her, and the last shot we see of her is the wicked little smile she gets as magic returns to Storybrooke, saving her from a likely hanging.

Now, I will grant that Regina being effectively untouchable has made her completely unlikable (and no, knowing what turned her to villainy has not made her sympathetic. Just crazy). And Rumpelstiltskin hasn't exactly been brought to justice either. But Rumpelstiltskin tends to get out of his problems through cleverness, or making a bargain with the right people. Regina, on the other hand, usually gets by from having the deck stacked in her favor, or some twist of fate working out for her. She's just not interesting as a villain; at best she's vile, but mostly she comes off as annoying.

If Regina started off season two sitting in chains in Charming's castle, or some dungeon of Rumpelstiltskin's, I'd be interested in her. She'd have to work to get back into a position where she's dangerous, and overcome real problems. But it looks likely she'll end up in another position of unearned power, bullying people. I hope I'm wrong.

I do look forward to seeing what Regina did to her mother though...

Maleficent keeps getting chumped. And how. Turns into a great damn dragon and gets taken out by a lucky shot from Emma. Let me promise you, it is not that easy to throw a sword and have the pointy end stick into anything.

I was hoping Maleficent would end up being a second season danger. Perhaps Regina would actually get what she deserved, and Maleficent would step in to fill the power vacuum. No such luck. I have heard that she's getting a movie in a year or two, which is some consolation, but it still seems like a bit of a waste. Then again, we've seen that death isn't the end in Storybrooke, so who knows...

David and Mary Margaret's relationship gets magicked back in shape. I know, I know, we're supposed to really care about Snow White and Prince Charming. Still, there was something natural about the way David and Mary Margaret's relationship developed in Storybrook. It was going off the rails pretty badly, but not because of the curse. They had trust issues, and honest emotional problems. Then the curse got broken and all of that seemed to vanish.

I should note that magic or no, it's not guaranteed that Snow and Charming are going to be a loving couple come season two. It's very possible that the things that happened under the curse are going to be a problem for them going forward. I sort of hope they are. I'm all in favor of happy endings, but if Snow and Charming are going to be back together, they ought to earn it.

I'm looking forward to seeing what happens in season two. I think the first episode is going to clinch the show for me: either I'll keep watching it, or I'll have to give it up as a loss. I am very much hoping for the former.

And, since I haven't checked in for awhile...

I've been continuing work on my NaNoWriMo novel, and the first draft is almost done. Honest! I'm right at the climax. I've been writing longhand, so I have no idea what my word count is, but I'm assuming it's pretty high. Of course I'm going to have to do a lot of period research to get the thing revised right, so it's by no means close to "done".

I've also been enjoying Game of Thrones (the series), and reading the latest Black Library releases. That's when I'm not getting settled into my kickass new house, which I really ought to talk about sometime. Another night...

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